The UK has seen little to no improvement in air quality over the last two decades as there is more focus on road safety.
That’s according to a new study, which is to be presented to the Royal Geographical Society.
Researchers from the University of the West of England (UWE) suggest transport planners are not taking into account the environmental impacts of transport choices “despite pollution contributing between 15 and 30 times the annual number of deaths associated with road traffic accidents”.
Current estimates suggest more than 50,000 deaths a year can be attributed to air pollution in the UK.
Dr Tim Chatterton and Professor Graham Parkhurst believe road transport is the principal cause of air pollution in more than 95% of legally designated ‘Air Quality Management Areas’ in the UK.
Professor Parkhurst said: “Air pollution is perhaps the grossest manifestation of a general failure of UK transport planning to take the environmental impacts of transport choices sufficiently into account. Currently air pollution is a shared priority between Defra [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] and DfT [Department for Transport] but shared priority does not mean equal priority.
“Environmental managers only identify and monitor the problems. Insufficient relevant priority has been given within the sector responsible for most relevant emissions – transport policy and planning – which has instead prioritised safety and economic growth.”
The government insists it is “firmly committed” to improving air quality and cutting harmful emissions.
A DfT spokesperson added: “That’s why we have committed more than £2 billion to greener transport schemes since 2011 and set out a national plan to tackle pollution in our towns and cities.
“We have some of the safest roads in the world and are committed to making sure that record continues.”